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The Anabasis [in translation] by Xenophon

The Anabasis [in translation]

by Xenophon

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,578334,627 (3.98)42
  1. 21
    The Ten Thousand: A Novel of Ancient Greece by Michael Curtis Ford (WhitmelB)
    WhitmelB: This is a modern writer's version of the long trek and is interesting from that angle. This is Michael Curtis Ford's first book. He has since written "Gods and Legions" about ancient Rome which might also interest readers.
  2. 02
    The Bolivian Diary: Authorized Edition (Che Guevara Publishing Project) by Che Guevara (caflores)
    caflores: Dos narraciones de largas y fracasadas expediciones militares, en un estilo sorprendentemente similar.
  3. 03
    The Last Centurion by John Ringo (TomWaitsTables)
  4. 16
    Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War by Mark Bowden (BOB81)

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Aka The Persian Expedition, Xenophon's account of how Cyrus the Younger led an army partly composed of Greek mercenaries is one of the most important surviving literary works of ancient days (4th century B.C.). It gives us an overview of the civilizations that existed in Asia Minor and their conflicts as the Greeks rose to prominence. Philip of Macedon was supposedly inspired by Xenophon's work to ponder leading expeditions against the Persians-- something Alexander the Great did with great success.

I was inspired to read it after reading this book and C.S.Lewis' autobiography. It (free) has reportedly been used to teach ancient Greek for centuries because of its simple form. I was amazed how straight-forward and non-prosaic (in English) the book was; I have to trust the modern English translation (Rex Warner edition), but I found it a very straightforward war story. There are good leadership lessons from the book as Xenophon comes across as the ideal democratically-elected ruler.

One interesting aspect about the structure is that Xenophon will give the narrative, then fill in the background later. He gives a biography and eulogy of the generals after they die, explains how he got caught up in the conflict in Book 3, etc.

Xenophon was a Greek invited by a friend to come meet Cyrus the Younger and fight for him. After consulting Socrates and the Oracle at Delphi, Xenophon signs on. One of my favorite parts was Book 3. The Greeks ("the 10,000") had signed up to be paid mercenaries of Cyrus the Younger, who was marching to seize the Persian throne from his brother Artaxerxes II. Cyrus was much admired by many Greeks in Asia Minor. His army swore oaths to Cyrus and to the gods on how they would conduct themselves--not pillaging but purchasing what they needed with their wages. The Spartan king had also signed up, hoping to gain support for Sparta in its own struggle with Athens. When they reach Babylon, Cyrus is tragically, perhaps mistakenly, killed in battle and now his Greek army is essentially stranded in a foreign land surrounded by Persians who want revenge and natives who want whatever. This harkens back to Homer's The Odyssey.

The Greeks want to get out as safely as they can, and accept promises of Tissaphernes, a Persian satrap. Tissaphernes betrays them and kills several of their generals, including the Spartan king. Despondancy sets in as they are beseiged.

Xenophon can't sleep one night because he recognizes that the army is now in confusion and had better set to reorganizing itself lest it be destroyed at any moment. He calls together remaining officers and implores action. The Greek army then elects new leaders (go Greek democracy!) and Xenophon overcomes objections of others to become one of the leaders.

He rallies the troops with the argument that they, unlike their enemies, have kept their oaths to the gods, and thus can expect the gods' favor in their quest. Better to fight and die nobly, and maybe they can make it home and tell their homeland of the riches to be had in this foreign land. Then, the Hollywood moment:

"The words were scarcely spoken when someone sneezed, and with one impulse the soldiers bowed in worship; and Xenophon proceeded: "I propose, sirs, since, even as we spoke of safety, an omen from Zeus the Saviour has appeared, we vow a vow to sacrifice to the Saviour thank-offerings for safe deliverance, wheresoever first we reach a friendly country; and let us couple with that vow another of individual assent, that we will offer to the rest of the gods 'according to our ability.' Let all those who are in favour of this proposal hold up their hands." They all held up their hands, and there and then they vowed a vow and chanted the battle hymn."

When the next attack comes, Xenophon leads a defensive action that goes badly and is later criticized by the other commanders. Xenophon shows humility and leadership by admitting his mistakes, explaining his action, and suggesting ways to better reorganize the army to better utilize its strengths against its enemies' superiority. I found this remarkable:

"If any one has any better plan, we need not adopt mine; but if not...for the rest, we can but make experiment of this arrangement, and alter it with deliberation, as from time to time any improvement suggests itself. If any one has a better plan to propose, let him do so."

The 10,000 have to march northward through Kurdistan and Armenia (helpful to remember these societies have been there since ancient days) to the Greek-inhabited colonies along the Black Sea, fighting enemies and nature the entire way.After finally reaching refuge at Trapezus (modern day Trabzon), the Greeks enjoy a rest and even hold sporting events. Then, the army has to march West along the coast-- still encountering hostile kingdoms and tribes-- to Byzantium.

Xenophon faces down opposition along the way. Some soldiers demand he be punished for being too harsh, for having beaten them. He gives a defense of his actions, in some cases he kept soldiers moving about to avoid frostbite or freezing to death. In another case, he struck a man for trying to bury a Greek soldier alive because he did not want to carry him--something Xenophon and his army found dishonorable.

Xenophon is offered supreme command of the army, but turns it down after taking time to sacrifice and consult the gods. He shows great humility, and never undertakes a major decision without first sacrificing to Zeus. He has omens that make him want to relinquish command, and the army breaks up for a time. After meeting with some near-disastrous trials, the army votes never again to break up. During a near-riot in Byzantium, the army offers again to make Xenophon a commander and he shrewdly seems to consent in order to get the troops into their formations, after which he brings them back to their senses and shows them the consequences their actions are likely to bring.

After reaching the Bosphorous, Seuthes the Thracian offers to pay Xenophon and his army to fight for him, urging him not to leave the army for home which was his intention. When the pay doesn't materialize, Xenophon is blamed and has to defend himself to the army once again. In the end, Seuthes pays up. In the end, the army joins with the Spartans to continue the fight against Tissaphernes. Xenophon ends up mostly poor, having little to show for having lead a grand army other than their respect and admiration.

Hopefully anyone who as actually authored an account of war has read this book first. Hopefully this is required reading in our military academies. I recommend utilizing the various free online resources to understand the geography and historical context. If you are a guy who wants to read a classic book that isn't hard, pick this one up.

Having vacationed in Amasra in 2012, I have a scene in my mind now of Greek triremes moving past, and an army moving along the cliffs.

One note: There are at least three mentions of pederasty common in Greek culture in this book-- the army men often quarrel for handsome young boys. I was familiar with this disturbing aspect of Greek culture from reading other books on ancient Greece, but it always strikes one as odd in reading it matter-of-factly as in this work. While some argue it's not the same as paedophilia, it's hard not to read it that way.

Five stars. ( )
  justindtapp | Jun 3, 2015 |
This is the history written by the Greek Xenophon (translated into English) who lead an army of 10,000 Greeks out of a failed campaign from Babylon to the Black Sea surrounded almost the whole time by hostile attacking forces. It was a 5 month trek with many challenges and the success of the enterprise makes this a remarkable historical feat.

The text itself not only tells the bare facts of what happened but also includes some of the social life of the Greek soldier and gives you a look into the mindset of the Greeks. Perhaps the oddest thing was the matter of fact way they mention men picking up boys as intimate companions. There is nothing lurid described it's just related as part of their society.

It does talk about the tactics the soldiers used to win their battles. They were attackers when faced with enemies and were not satisfied to stand and take the charges of enemies but always attacked. There is also many times where before taking a course of action an animal sacrifice was made and sign in the animals entrails were sought to give guidance.

You do see the democracy in action with the election of officers including the main character. The original leaders were mostly murdered through treachery as they were trying to leave the Babylon area so new people had to be selected to give direction. Xenophon had a good tactical mind and was able to speak about his proposed plans of actions very logically and convincing which is what lead to his selection as a leader.
( )
1 vote Chris_El | Mar 19, 2015 |
"your Latin & Greek should be kept up assiduously by reading at spare hours: and, discontinuing the desultory reading of the schools. I would advise you to undertake a regular course of history & poetry in both languages, in Greek, go first thro’ the Cyropaedia, and then read Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon’s Hellenies & Anabasis, Arrian’s Alexander, & Plutarch’s lives, for prose reading: Homer’s Iliad & Odyssey, Euripides, Sophocles in poetry, & Demosthenes in Oratory; alternating prose & verse as most agreeable to yourself." - Thomas Jefferson to Francis Eppes, 6 Oct. 1820

"In all cases I prefer original author to compilers. for a course of Antient history therefore, of Greece and Rome especially, I should advise the usual suite of Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Diodorus, Livy, Caesar, Suetonius, Tacitus and Dion, in their originals, if understood, and in translations if not." - Thomas Jefferson to George W. Lewis, 25 Oct. 1825
  ThomasJefferson | Jul 22, 2014 |
Xenophon tagged along with the army to join up with Cyrus to attack his own country. He came along as a kind of news reporter.

His people who went to meet Cyrus had their leaders tricked and murdered by Cyrus.

There is a speech in there where he convinces the soldiers to follow *him* out of a desert wasteland and back to home.

What would you say to them?? ( )
  Benedict8 | Jul 16, 2014 |
I enjoyed the book, although it inevitably became rather repetitive towards the end. Xenophon provides an up close and personal look at military life in an age of very different morality, when killing and enslavement of others seemed the natural order of things. Interestingly, since this was a Greek army, the female population seemed to have relatively little to fear from them.
More interesting than the battle scenes are the accounts of diplomacy as the retreating Greek army tries to negotiate its way home through mostly hostile territory. Absolutely nobody they reach an agreement with keeps their word about anything. ( )
  augustusgump | Jul 1, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (73 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Xenophonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Brownson, Carleton LewisTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cawkwell, GeorgeIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dakyns, Henry GrahamTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Forbiger, AlbertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
García Gual, CarlosIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hollo, J. A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lagerström, IngemarTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Linkomies, EdwinForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Manfredi, Valerio Massimosecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Perrot, Nicolas, sieur d'AblancourtTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Radice, Bettysecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rood, TimIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rouse, W. H. D.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sánchez Rivero, ÁngelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Venables, BobIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Warner, RexTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Warner, RexPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Waterfield, RobinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Woyte, CurtEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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(Introduction by G. L. Cawkwell): Every schoolboy used to know how ten thousand Greeks found themselves in the heart of the Persian empire a thousand miles from Greece, with half their leaders arrested by the Persians, and with a Persian army at hand, and how Xenophon the Athenian took charge and brought them safely home over rivers and mountains, through terrible winter and equally terrible barbarian foes, and it was a dull schoolboy indeed who did not thril at the sound heard one day by Xenophon from the rear of the column as he labored up yet another mountain against, as he thought, another hostile tribe -- 'The sea, the sea.'
Darius and Parysatis had two sons.
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This is the complete text of Xenophon's Anabasis in translation (i.e. without a Ancient Greek text). Please do not combine with volumes containing part of the Anabasis or the work in Ancient Greek.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140440070, Paperback)

In "The Persian Expedition", Xenophon, a young Athenian noble who sought his destiny abroad, provides an enthralling eyewitness account of the attempt by a Greek mercenary army - the Ten Thousand - to help Prince Cyrus overthrow his brother and take the Persian throne. When the Greeks were then betrayed by their Persian employers, they were forced to march home through hundreds of miles of difficult terrain - adrift in a hostile country and under constant attack from the unforgiving Persians and warlike tribes. In this outstanding description of endurance and individual bravery, Xenophon, one of those chosen to lead the retreating army, provides a vivid narrative of the campaign and its aftermath, and his account remains one of the best pictures we have of Greeks confronting a 'barbarian' world.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:22 -0400)

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Xenophon, after being exiled from Athens, spent the last years of his life hunting, writing, and recalling in his books the great days of the Persian expedition. This record of one of the most famous marches in history contains an account of the day-to-day life of ordinary men and soldiers. It demonstrates how Greek theories of government and morality worked out in practice for with his admiration for the great, Xenophon had a rare ability to understand and describe the outlook of lesser men. His own fortunes, too, are intensely moving. Cool, calculating, brilliant, and intensely pious, he is one of the most fascinating characters of history, and his account of his own doings is so far from being self-conscious that he seems to be one of the very few Greeks whose ways and manners have been accurately documented.… (more)

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